The Terror and Glory of Katy Perry's Super Bowl Performance

A halftime vision from pop culture's uncanny valley

Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports/Reuters

What exactly did it look like, that magnificent contraption Katy Perry strode in on at the start of her Super Bowl Half Time show? Was it the MGM Lion? The White Power Ranger's Zord? The sand tiger whose slumber Aladdin disturbed? Or, no, wait, different Disney—was it, as a friend of mine suggested, sky Mufasa?

What seems certain is that the glistening planes of Perry's robocat steed were meant to evoke CGI, making it a real-life rendering of a digital rendering of some real-life thing, making it either a post-modern miracle or abomination. You could say the much the same about the entire show. From the Tron chessboard of "Dark Horse," to the Yoshi's Island bandstand featuring disco-dancing sharkoids for "Teenage Dream" and "California Gurls," to the "Firework" shooting star that recalled NBC's "The More You Know" campaign, this was a buffet from the cultural uncanny valley: You're sure you've seen it all before, but until you read, say, BuzzFeed's "16 Things Katy Perry Looked Like During Her Half-Time Performance," you don't know exactly where. And even then, you're not sure why everything seems so ... off, plastered with vacant smiles and seemingly inflated with helium.

Lenny Kravitz played "I Kissed a Girl" for no immediately discernible reason other than to head off criticism that no real instruments were played on stage—a woefully inadequate sop to an inherently suspect complaint, like if Selma had put more flattering makeup on Tom Wilkinson to keep people from saying LBJ didn't get a fair shake. Missy Elliott's appearance was far more memorable, though equally inexplicable. Performing three of her own hits with a posse content to merely dance awesomely, she threw a harsh light onto the rest of the set merely by letting music with a point of view—and that still sounds like nothing else a decade on—speak for itself.

As for Perry herself? She got a little bit lost in the fever dream around her, though she should receive the metallic-lion's share of credit for however much one did or didn't enjoy the show. The imagery here wasn't merely recycled from the collective unconsciousness. It was refurbished and made coherent—fabulous, unsettling, LOL-worthy—by Perry's personal brand of cheer, which is to say the empty kind. A spectacle about spectacle; just what the Super Bowl needed.